Fences is a 2016 American period drama film starring, produced and directed by Denzel Washington and written by August Wilson, based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1985 play of the same name. In addition to Washington, the film also stars Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson and Saniyya Sidney.
Fences was released in the United States on December 16, 2016, by Paramount Pictures. It received positive reviews from critics, with praise directed at Washington’s performance and direction, Davis’s performance, the screenplay, pacing, cinematography and emotional tone. Critics found the film “extremely powerful and effective.” It was also a commercial success, grossing $64 million against a $24 million production budget.
The film was chosen by the American Film Institute as one of the top ten films of 2016, and was nominated for numerous awards, including four Oscar nominations at the 89th Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Washington), Best Supporting Actress (Davis) and Best Adapted Screenplay, with Davis winning for her performance. It also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor for Washington and a Best Supporting Actress win for Davis
In 1950s Pittsburgh, Troy Maxson lives with his wife Rose and their son Cory, and works as a garbage collector alongside his best friend, Jim Bono. Troy’s younger brother, Gabriel, sustained a head injury in World War II that left him mentally impaired, for which he received a $3,000 government payout that Troy subsequently uses as a down payment on a home for his family. Gabriel has since moved out to live across the street at “Miss Pearl’s” house, so Troy no longer gets rent money from Gabe, which places the family under financial strain. Gabe sometimes gets in trouble with the law for his erratic behavior. Rose suggests to Troy that Gabe might be better off residing in a hospital.
Troy left home at 14 after beating up his abusive father, and became a robber to sustain himself. While serving prison time for killing a man during a robbery, he met Bono and revealed himself to be a talented baseball player. He then played in the professional Negro leagues; but he never made it to Major League Baseball, which held a “color barrier” until 1947. Troy claims to have survived a near-fatal bout of pneumonia in his youth by defeating Death in a wrestling match, upon which Death vowed to return for a rematch.
Lyons, Troy’s son from a previous relationship, visits him on Troy’s payday to borrow money; this upsets Troy, who believes a man has a responsibility to work hard to find his own way and provide for his family. Rose later tells Troy that Cory is being scouted by a college football team, but Troy is dismissive of Cory’s chances of playing professional football and refuses to sign the permission slip, saying he does not want Cory to fail in athletics as he did.
Rose asks Troy to build a fence around their house, and Troy asks that Cory help him on Saturdays. On learning that Cory is not working at his after-school job at the A&P because it interferes with football practice, Troy demands that he return to the job, despite Cory’s attempts to convince him that he will work weekends instead of during the week.
After complaining about his company’s racist employment practices, Troy is promoted to driving the garbage truck, becoming the first African-American to do so in Pittsburgh. Bono finds out that Troy is cheating on Rose with Alberta, a woman he sees at Taylor’s (a bar) and encourages him to break it off. Troy later finds out that Cory did not return to his job, and so tells the coach that Cory is no longer allowed to play. Troy also refuses to sign papers that would allow Cory to be recruited for college football. Cory lashes out and throws his helmet at Troy, who warns his son not to disrespect him again. Troy (who is illiterate) signs papers rerouting half of Gabriel’s pension to a psychiatric hospital, forcing Gabriel to be institutionalized. The other half of Gabe’s pension is to be sent monthly to Troy.
After Troy impregnates Alberta, he is forced to reveal his affair to Rose, which leads to an argument in which Troy aggressively grabs Rose’s arm. Cory intervenes and knocks Troy into the fence. Months later, Alberta dies in childbirth. Troy angrily challenges “Mr. Death” to another fight.
Troy brings his baby daughter, Raynell, home, and Rose agrees to raise her as her own, but refuses to accept Troy back into her life. Cory is considering enlisting in the United States Marine Corps, having missed his opportunity to attend college with a football scholarship. One day, when Cory returns home, an intoxicated and bitter Troy blocks his path and instigates a fight in which Cory swings at Troy with a baseball bat. Troy grabs the bat from Cory and drives him out of the yard. Disoriented, Troy once again challenges Death to come for him.
Six years later, Troy has died of a heart attack, and Cory, now a USMC corporal, returns home, but informs Rose he will not attend Troy’s funeral. Rose admits to loving Troy despite his many flaws and pleads that Troy is still a part of Cory. Cory reconsiders after sharing memories of Troy with Raynell. Lyons is serving three years in prison for forgery, and gets a furlough to attend the funeral. Similarly, Gabriel is released from the hospital to attend and reunites with his family as they all bid farewell to Troy. Gabriel plays his trumpet and succeeds on the third try for St. Peter to open the gates of heaven for Troy, and the sun glistens over them.